Tag Archives: Bobby Hurley

Sorry Duke, Virginia is the New Taste in College Basketball

Reading some of national reporting on college basketball, particularly Virginia basketball, it might be easy to conclude that there was a crisis in college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia basketball was an infection slowly killing college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia was leading NCAA basketball down the path to attention deficit disorder-driven doom.

Such a conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

I watched Duke play Florida State the other day. It is hard not to be impressed by the embarrassment of riches Coach K has brought to Durham. Duke starts 4 freshmen. At least 2 of those 4 will be one-and-dones. The other 2 could spend a second season in Durham pretending to be college students, but it is not likely. Smart money says all four call it quits on going to class in January and conclude their stints at the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham after March Madness concludes.

As I watched the track meet with FSU, I couldn’t help but wonder what Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams thought. I can’t imagine what Bobby Hurley, Christan Laettner and Grant Hill think. I am sure they are happy with the continued success of the program. Duke is an unquestioned big dpg in NCAA basketball. However, watching Duke play basketball today has very little in common with Duke basketball that put the Blue Devils on the map. It looks nothing like the game that Battier, Booozer, Laettner, and Hurley played. Funny, I don’t remember many reporters griping about too much defense when defense was Duke’s calling card.

The Duke of old was known for discipline. Hard-nosed, aggressive man-to-man defense was Duke’s differentiation. While Duke had very talented players back in the day, they lived and died with their defense and the offense it so frequently spawned. Prior to the current incarnation of Duke basketball, players went to class and graduated with college degrees.

Not any more. The Duke of today is a staging area for NBA players. A way station, a holding bin. Duke no longer has a brand or calling card other than a roster stacked with kids who have no interest in a Duke education. Instead, they have every intention of leaving Durham before the first commencement ceremonies of their college “careers.” Remember when Coach K wouldn’t raise a championship banner in Cameron Indoor if a player on his team had not finished his degree? Yeah, those days are over.

Watching Duke play these days is like any other play ground game. it is festival of 1-on-1 moves and dunks. Duke’s defense is more happenstance than strategy & execution. When ridiculously talented players log enough minutes, eventually they will be in a position to make a remarkable play. Duke’s defensive success is more like looking down and finding a 4-leaf clover than the result of a well deployed plan.

On the other hand, I just got back from the Virginia/North Carolina game in Charlottesville. UNC came into today’s game averaging 85 points per game. They scored just over half of their average today as Virginia dominated the Tar Heels for the second year in a row in John Paul Jones Arena.

In past two games combined against Virginia, the Heels have scored 92 points for a per-game average of 46. That doesn’t happen by accident. It also is not a result of Virginia’s roster being stacked with 5-star, future NBA lottery picks. Rather it is the result of a program that is committed to winning differently and generally has its way setting tempo and controlling the pace of play.

Unlike Duke, Virginia wins based on stellar execution at both ends of the floor. They win by playing the best defense in the country. They win by frustrating offensive juggernauts used to having their way running up and down the court doing tomahawk and windmill dunks. UNC didn’t have any windmill jams on Saturday. Instead they got their butts kicked at both ends of the court by a team that, on paper, had no business staying within 20 points of the Tar Heels. What’s not to love about that?

David slaying Goliath has always been a popular theme in college athletics. Until Virginia started averaging close to 30 wins a season, no one ever evaluated David’s style points for how he slew Goliath. That Virginia fans went as crazy over 3 uNC shot clock violations as they did for De’Andre Hunter’s thunder jam over Joel Barry shows me that Virginia fans appreciate the full breadth of the college game.

Virginia can’t win playing UNC or Duke basketball, so they don’t. Instead, they play aggressive defense. They make the extra pass on offense. They play Virginia basketball. True basketball fans should at least appreciate if not relish the fact the Coach Tony Bennett has found a way to run with and beat the big dogs by intentionally not playing their game. Strategy and execution should be as appreciated as a part of college basketball as a break-away slam.

I suspect those who grimace at the way Virginia has creeped into the top tier of basketball programs are the same folks who like to see a winning score at the US Open of -20. On the surface a birdie-barrage looks more entertaining than hacking out of knee-deep cabbage.

However, what the run-and-gunners  and birdie fanatics miss is an appreciation for the strategy options and execution that turn an expected outcome on its head. Maybe what irks Virginia’s detractors the most is that Virginia wins enough big games now, that after a beatdown of UNC, no one even considered storming the court…since Virginia has now done this 5 times in a row.

I am not asking everyone to be a Virginia fan. All I am asking is for an accommodation, for a grudging acceptance that there is more than one way to succeed mightily in college basketball. Virginia might be an acquired taste, I understand that, but so is good bourbon, good scotch, and stout beer. Beating the tar out of the Heels two years in a row is a great reason to celebrate the acquired tastes in life, wherever we find them.

The Definition of a Team: Mesa Jackrabbits

Everybody likes a winner, especially in sports. It’s why we watch the sports we do, but when it’s high school sports it can be a little different. Students who play sports in high school are playing their respective sports because they enjoy it, for the love of the game, and it’s a way for that athlete to make their mark in high school. There is always a chance that these athletes can take their talents to the collegiate level or even higher, but for most athletes, high school is where it ends for them, so these young men and young women play their hearts out.

In Mesa, Arizona there is a high school that embodies what is so right with high school basketball. The Mesa High Jackrabbits are a team in every sense of the word. From the coaches, to the players, to the manager of the team nobody is bigger than the next guy. They look out for each other, they encourage each other when things don’t go the way the team envisioned, and most importantly they hold each other accountable on the court and outside the court.

“You take care of the little things, big things will happen for us.” Said Head Coach Shane Burcar during a recent practice.

Is that “coach speak”? Absolutely, but the way Burcar coaches his players, they understand the message behind it.

The Jackrabbits have hovered in the top three in the whole state the whole season at the biggest division level in the state of Arizona and are looking for another state title to hang in their well cluttered gymnasium of banners.

When you think of a team you follow winning a championship there are many things that probably come to mind about that team. The team has good offensive players, plays excellent defense, or has such good chemistry that it can overcome most problems that come the team’s way during the march to a title.

This year’s version of the Mesa High Jackrabbits remind me of several teams in college basketballs gloried past. The Jackrabbits are a team with no big-time division-one type of players where you can sit there and say to yourself “that’s the guy that will rescue the team if needed.” Nope, what you have is a team like Villanova that has a collection of guys that play as a team and have each other’s back in tough times.

That Villanova team played a highly-daunted team in the Georgetown Hoyas in 1985, where the Hoyas were the overwhelming favorite and they were the team that everybody hated with a passion. Before that game, Nova Head Coach Rollie Massimino said some things to his players before they took the floor.

“One, do not play to lose. Play to win. Two, you are good enough to win. You can beat anybody in the country. Believe it.” Coach Massimino told his players in 1985.

These are the same thoughts that Head Coach Shane Burcar impresses upon his players on an everyday basis. Burcar is tough on his players, but the Mesa players understand the reason behind his madness. Like Massimino, Coach Burcar never wants his players to doubt themselves when it comes to their opponents even though the talent level may not be what it has been in the past for the team.

In the last three games of the state tournament, the Jackrabbits have what Arizona Wildcats have in terms of not having one true ace in the hole type of player, but a team full of guys who know their role on the team and understand their role for the betterment of the team. The Wildcats lost a lot of talent to the NBA and graduation and to replace that talent takes a massive effort on the recruiting trail. However, has that slowed down the Cats at all? Not really. Do they have a few more losses than last season? Yes, but they are still going to NCAA Tournament and have a great chance to win the Pac-12.

Coach Burcar tells his team at every practice and game that they are no different from the other team.

“You guys will take it to Basha tonight. Take no prisoners!” Coach Burcar yelled enthusiastically at his players before they took floor in the state semi-final game.

The Jackrabbits certainly took it to Basha High School who had a bunch of AAU-type players who were good athletes, but lacked fundamental basketball skills. It was apparent from the start of that semi-final game that if Mesa could get up on them and frustrate them a little bit, then Basha would crumble. That is exactly what happened. Mesa had more hustle for loose balls, timely shot making, good free throw shooting, and most importantly big stops on the defensive end of the floor.

Mesa High locks its opponents down on the defensive end and creates an atmosphere of frustration for their opponent. Once this frustration sets in for the opposition, Mesa has its opponent exactly where it wants them. In this case, it is very much like the Arkansas Razorbacks back in the 1990’s coached by Nolan Richardson where it was termed “40 minutes of hell”.

The Razorbacks would press the heck out of any team they played, they would play the passing lanes, and make life miserable for the other team. Like I said, Mesa gets its opposition frustrated with a relentless attack defensively and you soon see players from the other teams complaining to the refs, complaining to their teammates, and just flustered to the point of giving up.

A mark of a championship team is its ability to go out and impose its will on its opponent. On Monday night, the Mesa High Jackrabbits went out and took the championship from their opponent. Like the Duke teams of the past, where Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, and Grant Hill took any momentum in the arena, the Jackrabbits grabbed all the momentum from Sunnyslope High School right before halftime.

Drew Hatch hit a Steph Curry type three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to pull Mesa within four. The halftime score was 27-23 and the throng of Mesa fans went nuts. From there, the Jackrabbits had all the momentum to come out in second half and gradually take the lead from Sunnyslope.

The pressure defense that had been Mesa’s trademark all tournament long, and probably all season long shut down the opposition’s players who were known for bombing three-pointers. Mesa wasn’t going to let them get any clean looks at a three ball and from there the frustration on the opponents face was increasingly becoming apparent.

In the end, Mesa did what they needed to do to win the Arizona State Championship, 51-48, and put themselves into the storied history of Mesa High athletics. Fear the Hop Mesa players and coaches, you are the champs and nobody, absolutely nobody can ever take that from you. Carry On!

Arizona Dominates Arizona State in The Territorial Cup

When it comes to the Territorial Cup in the state of Arizona it gets pretty intense with players, coaches, and fans. There have been confrontations on the court between players, coaches being ejected, upsets, and all sorts of colorful adjectives being hurled at each team. This is an intense rivalry game and it doesn’t matter the sport. People mention a hatred toward their rival and it’s not something that they joke about. It is a hatred for that other school. Wednesday night in Tucson, Arizona was another edition of this rivalry on the basketball court.

Arizona came into this game needing to continue their winning ways because their thought is another conference title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Qualifying for the big dance is not going to be an issue for the Arizona Wildcats, but questions are floating out there about how talented this Arizona team actually is. The Wildcats don’t exactly have that show-stopping talent that they have had in recent years, but for a game like the one against their rival Arizona State they had more than enough talent to compete.

Arizona State is just a team trying to hang on until the end of the season. For a good portion of the season the Sun Devils they have been playing with only eight scholarship players. Injuries have also taken a toll on Bobby Hurley’s team. Anybody that knows anything about basketball knows that if your team is injured and you have only eight guys that can play winning is going to be a challenge.

It was a challenge on Wednesday night for the Sun Devils.

Not only did the Wildcats have a talent edge, they had a size advantage over the Sun Devils. They made their inside presence felt most of the night by blocking shot after shot out of the air. Midway through the second half the Wildcats already had seven blocks, with Kaleb Tarczewski owning three of those.

Kaleb Tarczewski. If you follow Pac-12 basketball you know who this player is. If you follow college basketball in general you should know who he is. The Sun Devils knew who he was and couldn’t do anything to stop him. He was ready to play and so was the rest of the Wildcat team. Tarczewski finished the game with 6 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He made life miserable for the Sun Devil offense all evening.

The Sun Devils were not ready to play and it showed. When you shoot worse from two-point range than three-point range things will not work out for your team. That is exactly what happened to the Devils on Wednesday night. The Sun Devils shot 32% from two point range and 34% from three point range. This showed in the first half with the Sun Devils down by 14 points at half 38-24 which when you consider everything that the Wildcats did it was a gift only being down 14.

The second half was Wildcat domination in every facet of the game. In fact, with about 15 minutes left in the game Sun Devil Head Coach Bobby Hurley who is usually up and barking at the referees retired to his seat on the Arizona State bench and didn’t say a word.

Hurley was looking at what he wants for his own program in Tempe. Hurley wants players to flock to Arizona State to play basketball and provide the level of excitement the players at Arizona give their fans. What does Hurley need to do to make the basketball Territorial Cup more of a rivalry? Simple. To quote Al Davis, “Just win baby.” The winning is going to take some time because ASU does not have the history that history that Arizona has when it comes to basketball. Big time recruits want to play where they are going to win and ASU doesn’t provide that yet. Sun Devil fans hope Bobby Hurley can bring that type of swag to their program.

By the time this edition of the Territorial Cup was over the Wildcats showed everybody in the Pac-12 that they are not going anywhere and will do whatever they needed to do to secure another conference title. Arizona shot 57% from the field, 72% from the free throw line, dominated on the boards 52-27, and dominated on the scoreboard 99-61. If the Wildcats turn in this type of performance the remainder of the season then things will turn out well for them. Bear Down Arizona!

UCLA Makes Size the Issue and Takes Down Arizona State

With March Madness creeping around the corner for college basketball there are teams looking toward their tournament bid and then there are teams that are hanging onto some thought of a miracle. With UCLA and Arizona State taking to the court to battle on Sunday night, both of these teams were hanging on by prayer to any postseason hope and by postseason hope I mean the NIT, not the “Big Dance”. This game was a huge game in terms of that slim hope because the teams came with records of 14-11 for the Sun Devils and 13-11 for UCLA.

Sometimes just having that hope is all a team needs to keep things going for them and on Sunday night both the Sun Devils and Bruins played like it was their last game of the season. Both teams had the touch going early and that was a good sign for Arizona State especially since they started so cold from the field against USC on Friday night.

UCLA tried to make an issue about their size difference inside in the first half, but the Sun Devils didn’t seem concerned as they got baskets inside and got hot from the perimeter. If it were not for a few missed attempts right at the basket, the Devils may have had a bigger lead instead of being tied or it being a one or two possession game most of the first half.

One of the issues in the first half for both teams was neither was really wanting to take control of the game. Just when I thought Arizona State was starting to get their flow going, here came UCLA to take the lead or tie it. When it came to UCLA gaining momentum, the Sun Devils got hot from the field and tied it or took a slight lead. Who was going to impose their will in the second half? Whomever did was going to be clinging to that slight hope of a post season berth.

Teams went to the half with the score 37-35 UCLA in the lead.

UCLA took control early in the second half by taking advantage of their size. They got their big men some easy opportunities and continued to hit at a pretty decent clip from the field. They opened up a seven point lead with 14 minutes left. However, that is an eternity in basketball, but the size difference was starting to show for the Bruins.

Was there anything that the Sun Devils could do to keep the Bruins from winning the game?

The answer to that was a resounding no. The Sun Devils decided that missing free throws, missing shots, and turning the ball over was what they wanted to do. Seriously, once the game got under the 10 minute mark it was over.

Open jump shots were not falling. It didn’t matter if the Sun Devils were in paint or shooting from the three point arch. Nothing was falling for them and there was little Head Coach Bobby Hurley could do to stem the tide. He decided to see if the team could just shoot their way out of it. That didn’t happen, the Sun Devils just shot their way out of the game and lost 78-65.

“Our first media timeout we were 2-10, our second media time out we were 3-13, we were missing free throws. Anytime we had a sniff of getting the game in a close margin, we refused to make shots, free throws, and layups.” Said a frustrated Head Coach Bobby Hurley.

This was such a tough, frustrating game for Arizona State that in his post-game press conference Bobby Hurley almost seemed at a loss of words. He wants to win every game like every coach does, but this won stung his program a little bit more tonight.

“Obviously a tough loss, I felt like we were on the verge of something tonight. Like there has been this year, there has been progress and there has been regress. We regressed again tonight.” Coach Hurley mentioned at beginning of the press conference.

Like any team trying to turn the corner and become a winner, Arizona State still has a lot of work ahead of itself with its basketball program. They have a bit of talent, but they are small. UCLA was big and long and it caused enormous issues for the Sun Devils. What happens now? Well, the Sun Devils need to finish the season out as strong as possible to help recruit bigger, longer, more talented kids to the desert. Winning helps everything, but it really helps perception for a program like ASU because when talented kids think of basketball in Arizona they don’t think of the Sun Devils they think of their rivals to the south in Tucson.

I, for one, love a balanced conference, so I am rooting for the Sun Devils to field a better team in the future. However, only time will tell with this program. Forks Up Sun Devil fans.

Arizona State Puts the Fork to the USC Trojans

Coming into this weekend’s games against the Los Angeles schools, Arizona State is on the outside looking in. They are playing for pride more or less at this point with their record only two games above .500. The talk about a possible NIT bid to me is all talk. This team has to look at playing spoiler the rest of the Pac-12 season. With the USC Trojans in town on Friday night it was a major opportunity to play the spoiler role due to the Trojans being in second place behind the Oregon Ducks in the conference.

The Trojans needed a win to keep pace with Oregon in the Pac-12, but coming out of the gate they acted like they could just show up and win the game. Not so fast USC. The Sun Devils came out and made life miserable for the Trojans by challenging shots and getting some early turnovers. However, if you are going to swim with the big dogs in the conference you have to hit some shots yourself.

The Devils thought the three ball was the way to go to beat the Trojans. They tried, and tried, and tried, but their three point attempts would not go down for them. It was a brick laying show for the Devils and the crowd was getting restless with all the three ball shots. One of the reasons for all the outside shots was the size of the Trojans.

Head Coach Andy Enfield has some good, athletic size on his Trojan squad. They have four guys who are 6’10” or bigger, they all play, and they all CAN play. In fact, the Trojans have 11 out 12 players that are 6’5” or bigger. If you are going to go inside on USC you better have some good size yourself. The Sun Devils don’t have the size that Trojans do, so getting inside was tough for them.

What the Sun Devils did was try and use some of the quickness they possess and get around the bigs of the Trojans. It worked a bit for them and they were getting “hustle” baskets by not giving up on plays and at the half the Trojans were only down three 30-27.

Much like the Oregon game, the Sun Devils were hanging tough at the half, only to get blown out in the end. Could they turn their fortunes around this time?

Instead of coming out flat and letting USC dictate tempo, the Sun Devils took it right to the Trojans and steadily built a lead of anywhere of five to nine points. Every little threat the Trojans made the Sun Devils turned away.

The hustle plays made a difference for the Sun Devils on Friday night. Arizona State was diving on the floor for balls, getting balls that were just bouncing around loose, and these bounces were finally bouncing the Devils way.

“We were forcing turnovers and our activity was really good. I am very happy with the effort tonight.” Said Sun Devil Head Coach Bobby Hurley.

What do the Trojans have to do now?

They absolutely have to win in Tucson against Arizona, so they don’t go back to Los Angeles being swept by the Arizona schools. The loss tonight gives the Oregon Ducks breathing room at the top of the conference for right now. Anything can happen in the Pac-12 Conference, so the Trojans are not out of it, but they made it a little tougher on themselves on Friday night.

The Trojans have to get better at playing with a sense of urgency, taking every opponent seriously, and from what I saw in this game they have to improve their defensive rotations. They were slow all night against the Sun Devils and if they want to win the conference and make any noise in the NCAA tournament they have to lock down better on the defensive end.

The Devils won this game with timely shooting, hustle for loose balls, and good free throw shooting in the second half. This is the first time all season that the Sun Devils looked like a team. All facets of the game came together against a quality opponent. Like I said earlier, the role of spoiler is what the Sun Devils are pretty much relegated to for the remainder of the season, but any win is a good win and the Sun Devils will enjoy this 74-67 win over the USC Trojans.

Oregon Spreads its Wings and Flies by Arizona State

Entering into the game with the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona State Sun Devils on Sunday night there was talk of a possible upset. With the Pac-12 Conference-leading Ducks in town and the Sun Devils coming off a convincing victory over Oregon State on Thursday night people in Tempe had reason to hope for a sweep of the Oregon schools.

This game was contentious from the start. The crowd was into it and after a slow start by the Sun Devils, the team got into it. For both teams it was an opportunity to build on something. For the Ducks it would mean a fourth straight win and a sweep of the Arizona schools. For Arizona State it would be a second straight win, a sweep of the Oregon schools, and keeping their slim postseason hopes alive.

Oregon got out to a quick 11-0 lead and for the time being the air was slowly being drained out of the building. The Sun Devils came out slow and I started to wonder if the Sun Devils just came to think that they were not in the same class as Oregon, which they may not be, but they needed to put up a fight at least. After several shots at the rim were missed, the Devils started hitting some shots from beyond the three point arch and the Ducks started to cool down a bit. The Sun Devils were also helped by a string of Oregon turnovers that provided points for them.

Once the Devils got the game tied at 20 with seven minutes left in the half that gave the rowdy Wells Fargo crowd something to go crazy over. The teams would trade lead changes until the half and the Ducks ended up leading 37-36 at halftime. The shooting wasn’t too bad for either team as the Sun Devils hit 47% from the field and Oregon hit 42% from the field. However, the stat that brought ASU back into the game was their ability to hit 47% from the three point line.

The questions going into the half to me were pretty simple. Could Oregon respond to the fight that the Sun Devils were putting up? On the other side of the court, could Arizona State keep this high level of play up?

Sun Devil Head Coach Bobby Hurley is a fiery type of coach and is gaining that reputation among referees as well, but his team is certainly taking on the persona of its coach. The Devils had to come out and show Oregon that they were not just going to lay down for them.

That was the thought anyways by the Sun Devils I am sure.

Teams come out in the second half and the Ducks got out quick. They scored 5 straight points and the Sun Devils were having problems taking care of the ball, but were still hanging around only down 51-44 with 16 minutes left to play. I know that is a lot of time left in the game, but anything can happen in college basketball.

The thought of an upset was just a thought though. The Ducks started hitting some shots, getting to the rim, and the Sun Devils started wilting under the bright lights. The Devils started to show why they are near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference and conversely, the Ducks started showing why they are leading the conference at this point.

Bobby Hurley who had been barking all game at the officials finally got a technical foul in a veiled attempt at firing up his team. It didn’t help fire anybody up. If anything, it made the Ducks play harder, tougher, and more determined to put away the Sun Devils.

Don’t get me wrong, the Sun Devils are a scrappy group of players, but Oregon showed that they are just better at this point than the Devils. Oregon is more athletic, have better ball handlers, and have better shooters. One player for Oregon that caught my eye was their 6’10” forward, Chris Boucher ,who just about had a triple-double for the Ducks. He had a career high 26 points (four 3-pointers), 10 rebounds, and seven blocks. The kid can play and made his presence known throughout the contest. Keep your eye on this player as the season unfolds.

Can Oregon go deep in the NCAA Tournament? They don’t have a good post game right now. Their “bigs” are more hybrid forwards than centers and prefer to stay outside and shoot. That is not going to win championships, but they can certainly screw up the brackets of many people in March. I see them as a round of 16 team at best. It depends on the draw they get as well, but the Pac-12 is a middle of the road basketball conference this season.

In the end, the Sun Devils don’t have what the Ducks do and it’s going to take Bobby Hurley and his staff a couple of years to turn this around in Tempe. The fans have to be patient with him, but Hurley also has to learn to control his temper better because I could see it coming back to bite the team at crucial times in the future. The final score was 91-74 for the Oregon Ducks and that is the appropriate difference in the two programs at this point.

Sun Devils Pound Beavers into Submission

It’s the time of year for college basketball teams that want to make it to NCAA Tournament to start making their statement by winning games that they should win. That scenario was on display at Wells Fargo Arena Thursday night when the Arizona State Sun Devils demolished the Oregon State Beavers in Pac-12 Conference play by a score of 86-68.

Coming into this game both teams had very average records and were teetering on becoming irrelevant for the rest of the year, so this game had plenty of importance for both the Sun Devils and Beavers. Fortunately, for Sun Devil fans, their team showed up to play. The Devils started the game out by hitting a three-point basket and from there on out it was a blowout. Arizona State could not miss, the Sun Devils shot 46 percent from beyond the arch and 60 percent from the field. When you hit 11 three-pointers things turn out well for you and for ASU it was a welcomed sight because they had gone through a stretch where they had come out slow and it affected them the rest of the game.

Not Thursday night. The Sun Devils looked like a team fighting for a tournament berth and trying to make a “We are not dead” statement.

“It’s a good feeling right now to see the team play that way.” Said Head Coach Bobby Hurley. “I thought we had great energy and getting deflections, generating stops and then that probably didn’t put as much pressure on our offense and we had a lot of guys playing well and contributing.”

The Sun Devils had five guys in double figures and 24 assists on 32 field goals. It was an impressive display of offense by a team that has had a very up and down year to this point in the season.

On the other side of the coin was Oregon State which could not hit a shot in the first half and struggled to score 17 points in the half. The Beavers ended up shooting 19 percent in that first half. They had shots just roll off the rim, rattle in and out basket, and some were just bad shots. You are not going to win when that is happening to your team.

Oregon State was looking to capitalize on their big upset win over the USC Trojans last week in Corvallis. However, they could not get any offense generated. The hole that they dug themselves was too much to overcome and there was nothing that Beaver Head Coach Wayne Tinkle could do to prevent the loss.

The Beavers only shot 38 percent from the free throw line which may have been a direct result of them being distracted by the “Curtain of Distraction” that ASU employs when the opposing team is at the line. The Devils actually had Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps jump out from behind the curtain to jump around in his speedo to distract the Beavers at the line. It worked to perfection because Oregon State missed both free throws while Phelps was there. The crowd went crazy when they realized it was Phelps and the amount of noise that was heard is probably only heard when the Arizona Wildcats come to town to play.

Do the Sun Devils turn this performance into something that causes their season to turn around? Possibly. They do have some tough teams coming up on the schedule. They play Oregon on Sunday evening, travel to the Washington schools next weekend, and still have Arizona, USC, UCLA, and Utah left to play. That is a tough road to conquer, but anything is possible at this point in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils gave their fans a glimmer of hope to hang their hat on, lets just hope the Sun Devils don’t cause their fans to hang themselves with that hat. Forks Up!

The Bobby Hurley Era Begins at Arizona State

The Bobby Hurley era at Arizona State has begun and it is apparent that there is plenty of work to be done before the program is challenging anybody for the conference title. The Sun Devils lost their home opener on Friday night to Sacramento State 66-63 at Wells Fargo Arena.

Whenever a new coach comes onto the scene for a school there is always a buzz with the program, but when the coach has some name recognition like Bobby Hurley there is something a little extra in the air with fans, players, and coaches.

When Hurley was hired in the off-season it was seen as a move to jump start a program that had been stuck in mediocrity and wasn’t making any inroads to challenge their rival to the south, the Arizona Wildcats, who is a national brand in terms of basketball. Those of us who follow college basketball know the past of Bobby Hurley. The competitive former Duke Blue Devil, who led them to a couple national championships, and basically was a thorn in the side of many teams and their fans.

Hurley not only comes with his Blue Devil pedigree, but he had some good success at the University of Buffalo. Buffalo? Yeah, Buffalo. He was named the head coach at Buffalo in 2013 and immediately made an impact on the program. He guided them to a MAC East Division crown and let people know he could coach. In 2014 he built upon that by guiding Buffalo to their first MAC Championship and their first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. With that success he became a hot commodity in college basketball and Arizona State was looking for a new coach, after firing long time coach Herb Sendak. Coach Hurley took the challenge of leading and resurrecting the men’s basketball program at ASU.

What kind of team does Hurley have at Arizona State? Well, he has a bunch a guys that are slender, long, and fairly young. Most of the players range from 6’4”-6’7”, with the only player bigger than that being Eric Jacobsen at 6’10”. The experience factor is really there for his players and that is going to create some issues for Hurley to keep the excitement around the program and to get the players he is going to want to have at Arizona State.

The issues at Arizona State that Bobby Hurley faces are big. A program that hasn’t done anything for years, facilities that are not the greatest, and when you put those two things together, you get a fan base that is luke warm at best. The Sun Devils play in front of a half empty arena every game and that has not gone unnoticed by recruits who want to come to ASU, but want to feel like they are supported by the community. It’s a challenge for the Sun Devils that the only remedy is going to be winning and with the current assembled team that is going to be a tough thing to accomplish.

After his first game on Friday night in which his new Sun Devil team lost 66-63 to an upstart Sacramento State team, it is obvious that there is much work to be done before the Sun Devils will be challenging for anything in the Pac-12.

Even though this is a Power 5 program for Hurley, he has the incredible task of molding the young players that he has and somehow getting them to play bigger than they are. As I stated earlier, they are not incredibly big with only one player over 6’7”, so they are going to have to play some very fundamentally sound basketball. That means, blocking out, using some of their athleticism to get to rim and not letting bigger teams set their defense. If defenses are set when Sun Devils go on offense, I’m not so sure they will be able to win with their outside shooting. Their shooting looked sketchy at best against Sacramento State and with a full tilt of Pac-12 competition coming that does not bode well for them.

For the 2015 season Hurley is going to have to get a couple of good wins to keep the excitement level with the fans going and to keep them coming to Wells Fargo Arena. I see a bottom half of the Pac-12 finish, no NCAA appearance, and major reconstruction of a program happening. It just may be a few years until Hurley gets things turned around. He doesn’t have “that guy” that he can go to in a crunch time situation yet. Can he get those guys to come to Tempe? We just have to wait to find out.

Akron Zips Can’t Avoid Potholes in MAC Tournament Format

The road to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the Akron Zips was full of as may potholes as most of the roads around Northeast Ohio. On Friday night, one of those potholes was too big for the Zips to avoid, as they lost 68-59 to the Buffalo Bulls in the semifinals.

The road that began at home on Monday with a win over Northern Illinois and then continued to Cleveland where the Zips defeated Western Michigan and Kent State was a long and winding one that took its toll on the Zips.

“All these games wear and tear on your body,” Akron junior wing Jake Kretzer said. “We were ice batching after every game up in our hotel rooms, doing whatever we could do to get the win.”

Akron has always prided itself on being a program that doesn’t make excuses, but you simply couldn’t watch the game on Friday night and not notice how exhausted the players in the blue uniforms looked by the time it was all over. And who could blame them? As if playing three games in four nights coming in wasn’t enough, the Zips had played a knock-down, drag-out affair with Kent State the night before.

“If you watched that game last night, it hard to figure out who you would want to play. Those two teams slugged it out,” Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley said when asked if he would have rather played Akron or Kent State. “Maybe just knowing that Akron played three straight days and down the stretch we were able to get to the glass a lot, I think that benefitted us having some fresh legs.”

And then the part that isn’t as obvious to onlookers during the game would be that Akron had to be worn out in the mental phase of the game as well. After all, this was their fourth straight game this week in a win-or-go-home scenario.

“Mentally, it’s crazy,” Kretzer said. “We’ve been away from school all week. We’ve been thinking about winning this MAC tournament.”

Despite how tired Akron may have been, they knew that the man roaming their sideline wasn’t going to let them give up or give in, even when Buffalo started the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 39-32 lead after Akron had worked to get the deficit to just one at halftime. Head Coach Keith Dambrot expects more of his team and he demands such from the players.

“Coach kept our heads in it and kept saying ‘show toughness, I don’t want to see any tiredness out there’”, Kretzer said. “So we kept showing toughness and kept playing as hard as we can.”

What the night showed was how difficult it is for a team who doesn’t at least grab one of the top four seeds in the MAC’s tournament format that is now in its fourth season. By getting the No. 7 seed, Akron played Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and would had to play Saturday to win the tournament had it won on Friday. Meanwhile, Buffalo getting the No. 2 seed meant that the Bulls earned a bye straight into the semifinals along with No. 1 seed Central Michigan, whom they will face in Saturday’s championship game.

“We had played three games, they had played no games so they had a little more juice than we had,” Dambrot said. “Simple as that. You can sit there and analyze it all you want, they more energy than we had.”

Just how difficult is it for teams who play on Monday to get to the championship game? In the four years of the current format, only Eastern Michigan last season had made it as far as the semifinals before Akron did it this season. In fact, this year marks the third year in a row that the top two seeds will meet for the championship and the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The only exception to the rule was Ohio in 2012, who ironically won the tournament as the No. 3 seed and then went on to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. That Bobcats team is also the last MAC team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

By winning three games, Akron became the lowest seed to make the tournament semifinals in the current format and reached the semifinals for the 10th straight season. Akron had played in seven consecutive tournament championship games before having that streak snapped last season.

Unfortunately for this year’s Zips, the potholes were just too large to miss on their way to championship game.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Bobby Hurley's Act Quickly Growing Old

by Ryan Isley

Imagine a 2-year-old stomping his feet and throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a Toys ‘R’ Us because his parents wouldn’t buy him the toy he wanted. That would be Buffalo Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley on the sidelines during his team’s games.

During the Bulls’ 83-71 loss to the Akron Zips on Tuesday night, Hurley put on a show that took away the attention and the spotlight not only from the game, but from his team. Hurley was relentless in his berating of the officials, not just once in a while, but for the entire 40 minutes. It was so bad that every time a whistle blew, people – including the officials – immediately looked at Hurley to see his reaction.

That reaction? It was a sight to behold.

There were times that Hurley’s cheeks matched the rosy redness of Santa Claus, only it wasn’t because he was jolly. There were instances where he resembled Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil, only instead of a cartoon, it was real life.

Hurley spent more time on the floor than most of his players Tuesday night, with much of that time spent yelling at officials or making hand gestures towards them on every call. It was as if Hurley had forgotten that he gave up the uniform and sneakers for a shirt and tie long ago. During each timeout, Hurley spent most of the time in the ears of the officials while his assistant coaches were talking to the team.

There was more than just verbal abuse of the officials as well. When Akron’s Quincy Diggs drew a foul on Buffalo’s Jarod Oldham just 4:04 into the game near the Buffalo sideline, Hurley actually seemed to say something to Diggs. Both downplayed it after the game, with Diggs saying that Hurley asked him if he fouled Oldham instead of the other way around. But when Diggs hit a 3-pointer and drew a foul as he was knocked into Hurley later in the first half, it seemed as if Hurley had even more to say to Akron’s leading scorer on the night.

Hurley’s arguments didn’t appear valid throughout the first half, as his team actually shot eight more free throws and were called for two fewer fouls than Akron in the first 20 minutes. In fact, Hurley should have been thanking the officials because if not for their refusal to call fouls and violations on MAC Player of the Year candidate Javon McCrea, the game might have been over sooner than it actually was.

The reactions and explosions from Hurley continued well into the second half, to the point where Akron fans started chanting “Bobby’s Gonna Cry.” Hurley no doubt heard the chants, as he shot a glare towards the Akron student section – the AK-Rowdies – after a made 3-pointer by the Bulls.

It finally boiled over for the officials with 12 minutes to play, as they gave Hurley a technical foul after warning him just a few minutes prior. At the time of the technical, Akron led the game 51-50. Reggie McAdams made one of the two technical free throws, and Akron went on a 20-8 run to take a 71-58 lead with 3:16 remaining before Hurley and the Bulls decided to draw the game out by fouling.

After the game, Hurley was still not happy about the officiating as he met with the media. When asked if there was an altercation with Diggs early in the game, Hurley denied it but did say he had problems on the night.

“I had my issues with some other people today that weren’t on Akron. I am not going to go into that,” Hurley said, referencing the officials. “It has been a pattern for me this year with some of that stuff, with those guys.”

With that comment fresh in mind, I asked a follow-up question:

“Coach, do you feel like you bring some of that on yourself though with the way you act on the sideline?,” I asked.

Before I could even get the last couple of words out, Hurley was already answering the question.

“No, I don’t. I feel like I see other coaches in my league doing very similar things when I watch film,” Hurley said. “I watch a lot of film so I see everything that is happening all over the league when I watch film and I repeatedly see the same demonstrative responses to bad calls and I feel like I am targeted unfairly and I have been targeted unfairly this year.”

Now, I have seen plenty of MAC games this season as well and while I have seen coaches show emotion and question the officials, I have not seen anyone do it for the entire game as Hurley had done. So I asked another follow-up concerning the technical foul and the timing of it.

“At the same point, do you maybe think you put your team in a bad situation by getting a tech tonight and by being on the officials the entire game?,” I asked.

“I don’t really think that I need to answer your questions about that,” Hurley said, starting to glare at me as if I was wearing a striped shirt. “In my technical fouls most of the season, my players have responded to me because they respect that fact I will fight for them. I don’t think it did because I believe he missed one of two free throws.”

I started to ask another question but was quickly interrupted by the first-year head coach.

“It seemed like it was a big part of the game, though…,” I started.

“I get your joke. You have no idea what you are watching,” Hurley responded.

That was the end of the press conference, as Hurley got up and continued shooting looks at me as he walked away from the table. The stares of daggers continued well after he had exited the room, as he peered in from the hallway, again in my direction. I felt as if the line of questioning was fair and in bounds, even if Hurley felt otherwise.

I am not really sure what Hurley thought was a joke about my question. I didn’t find anything funny about a head coach putting his team in a position where they needed to come from behind because he couldn’t keep his cool under pressure. But then again, it wasn’t the first time this season that a Hurley technical foul has cost his team a game.

Last month in Buffalo’s 74-68 loss to Bowling Green, it was another technical on Hurley that gave the Falcons the opening they needed to pull off the upset. With his team leading 66-64 and just 2:28 remaining, Hurley was called for a technical foul. Bowling Green hit both free throws to tie the game and ended the game on a 14-2 run to win the game after trailing 66-60.

Akron head coach Keith Dambrot has been there, so he has an idea of what Hurley is going through in his first year.

“The only advice I would tell him is he has the pedigree and the future to be a star. He could be Shaka Smart,” Dambrot said. “There is no sense in hurting himself. He has to harness the competitiveness. But he can do it. This is his first year as a head coach. I had 14 technicals the first year as a head coach and I was doing it in the NAIA at Tiffin so nobody saw it. I was probably just the same.”

The Bulls are now 12-5 in conference play and would win the MAC East with a win against Bowling Green on Saturday or an Akron loss Friday to Kent State. But instead of people talking about the team who will be no lower than the No.3 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament, the focus of the game – and the season for that matter – has been the antics of Hurley.

At some point, Hurley needs to realize that what he is doing is hurting his team and garnering a reputation that he might have problems shaking if it keeps up. Instead of blaming others and pointing fingers, he might need to take a good hard look in a mirror in the not too distant future. The petulant and adolescent behavior isn’t helping his team, nor is it earning him the respect from the officials who he constantly lambasts during a game and in his postgame comments.

This is becoming a disturbing trend for Hurley and Buffalo and even for the MAC. Hurley might feel like he is being targeted unfairly, but it would be impossible to not notice his jumping up and down and screaming on the sidelines as if he shares DNA with Jim and John Harbaugh.

Hurley needs to remember that sometimes life just isn’t fair.

And sometimes, you don’t get that shiny new toy – no matter how much you cry.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.